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You Break It, You Pay for It

So it turns out Pottery Barn doesn't even have a rule that says, “You break it, you own it.” According to a company spokesperson, “in the rare instance that something is broken in the store, it's written off as a loss.” Yet the nonexistent policy of a store selling $80 corkscrews continues to wield more influence in the United States than the Geneva Conventions and the US Army's Law of Land Warfare combined. As Bob Woodward has noted, Colin Powell invoked “the Pottery Barn rule” before the invasion, while John Kerry pledged his allegiance to it during the first presidential debate. And the imaginary rule is still the favored blunt instrument with which to whack anyone who dares to suggest that the time has come to withdraw troops from Iraq: Sure the war is a disaster, the argument goes, but we can't stop now—you break it, you own it.

You asked for my evidence, Mr. Ambassador. Here it is

David T Johnson,
Acting Ambassador
The US Embassy, London


Dear Mr Johnson,
On November 26, your Press Counselor sent a letter to the Guardian taking strong exception to a sentence in my column of the same day. The sentence read: “In Iraq, US forces and their Iraqi surrogates are no longer bothering to conceal attacks on civilian targets and are openly eliminating anyone—doctors, clerics, journalists—who dares to count the bodies.” Of particular concern was the word “eliminating.”

The letter from your office suggested that my charge was “baseless” and asked the Guardian either to withdraw it, or provide “evidence of this extremely grave accusation.” It is quite rare for US Embassy officials to openly involve themselves in the free press of a foreign country so I took the letter extremely seriously. But while I agree that the accusation is grave, I have no intention of withdrawing it. Here, instead, is the evidence you requested.

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